And yet, there is something deeply moving in the early verses of our Torah portion - a diamond in an otherwise rough text. According to the Torah, upon giving birth to a son, a woman would "remain in a state of blood purification for thirty-three days," and upon giving birth to a daughter, a woman would "remain in a state of blood purification for sixty-six days." The Torah then offers the following:
On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter, she shall bring
to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt
offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering...If, however, her means do not
suffice for a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering
and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make expiation on her behalf, and she
shall be [considered ritually] pure [once again].
The ancient world of entering into a period of purification after childbirth, especially in this day and age where new mothers are released from the hospital less than forty-eight hours after giving birth, may be foreign to us. To think that ancient Israelite culture had a ritual of sacrifice when a woman was ready to re-enter the community, may also be foreign, especially in a culture where a woman is considered fortunate to receive three paid months of maternity leave before needing to return to her place of employment.
But as foreign as this text and practice may seem, there is something deeply beautiful about the ritual of expiation. The first woman brings to the priest a lamb as a burnt offering, and a pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering. The second woman brings two turtledoves or two pigeons. Their sacrifices are inherently different. But the outcome is the same. The priest makes expiation on behalf of both of them. There's no difference whatsoever in the eyes of God. No questions asked, no judgment, no awkward or scrupulous glances; the second woman's offering is considered just as good as the first woman's offering, case closed.
While it is easy to gravitate toward stories like Noah's Ark, or the Ten Commandments, or the spies because they are recognizable and accessible, sometimes the greatest stories are written in between the lines. For this particular ritual in Parashat Tazria, I'd like to imagine a kindly priest (similar to how I imagine the character of the saintly bishop in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables) standing at the entrance to the Temple. It's a sultry summer day and the Jerusalem sun is blazing overhead. Two women approach the priest, as their respective "periods of purification" have ended. One is carrying a two-month-old daughter in her arms. The baby girl is sleeping soundly, and a lamb trails peacefully behind them. The other woman has a one-month-old son. He is unsettled and crying in this heat. The woman tries to lullaby him, and she is not alone -- the two small birds that she carries in her shoulder bag are mimicking the sound of her lullaby.
The priest looks at both women, smiles at them, and says, "Welcome." In his kindness and his brief word of welcome, he accepts each of these women, and he accepts their different circumstances too. His actions - compassion, support, and even love - help these women to feel right at home. The purity of his response enables each woman to reenter the community, regardless of the nature of her sacrifice. Rather than needing to live up to an undue system of expectations, each person is taken as they are. If that isn't the essence of what it means to be a holy community, I'm not sure what is. Even given the foreign nature of these ancient rituals, if acceptance were simply the defining characteristic of most communities, I'd have but three words to say -- Sign. Me. Up.
 Leviticus 12:4-5.
 Leviticus 12:6, 8.